Tajika Haruo Ironworks

Tajika Haruo Ironworks

In Japan, ‘family inheritance’ has a slightly more nuanced meaning.

The once-common practice of passing down a craft, and its associated skill set, to the next generation – whether it be calligraphy, screen printing, or kabuki theatre – is slowly but surely dying out.

In Kobe City, where fourth generation scissor craftsman Daisuke Tajika’s Ironworks is based, there are fewer than 30 family businesses in operation.  Once there were 300.  The slow extinction of these ancient crafts is a global phenomenon felt intensely in Japan, where the country’s economy all but hangs on mass production, despite a rich heritage of manual arts and crafts.

Conditions like these make the survival of Daisuke and his father’s business, Tajika Haruo Ironworks, all the more intriguing. For almost a century, the Tajika family have been forging, shaping and sharpening scissors and shears by hand in exactly the same way.  It’s a labour intensive process: the metal has to be tempered by heat, shaped by hammer, the tool inspected and then corrected.

Takeo Tajika inspects his work.

“This is not a craft which we’ve ever undertaken on the basis of the division of labour,” Daisuke explains, “so a craftsman must become an expert at every stage of the production process.”

Working alongside each other from morning til night, Daisuke and his father Takeo exemplify that quintessentially Japanese quest for perfection in their work. 

After the sun sets, Daisuke turns his attention to the administrative side of the business – website enquiries, invoicing and marketing.  This part of Daisuke’s day marks the biggest shift in tradition – and is perhaps the reason that the ironworks is able to keep on keeping on.

Daisuke,Fusako and Takeo Tajika.

Where once the idea of a global market for such a niche product seemed impossible for Tajika scissors, now a growing customer base is part and parcel.

“Once, I remember seeing a picture of a huge German guy using one of our small scissors and I felt very happy and proud when I saw it,” Daisuke has said. “At first, I just couldn’t imagine foreigners using our products, but now, I am very happy to keep increasing our customer base – both here in Japan and abroad.”

As availability has increased, so has demand.  While in mainstream business this is affectionately called a ‘good problem’, it’s one Daisuke grapples with.

“Basically, if we try to increase volume without a corresponding rise in manpower or time spent in the workshop then there would be a theoretical danger of diminished quality – and we would never let that happen,” says Daisuke.

Daisuke and Takeo working side by side.

“We always have to think carefully about this aspect of the business because our main concern is satisfying our customers by making scissors to the very best of our ability. It’s not just about volume and sales at the end of the day: it’s about quality and providing the best service for our customers.” 

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Tajika scissors are available now.

With help from Merchant and Makers and Nalata Nalata.